August 19, 2007

Sundays in the Village: Dance of the Dead

Prisoner: Dance of the Dead
Originally uploaded by Gordon D
Doctor: Every man has a breaking point!
Number 2: I don't want him broken...he must be won over....this man has a future with us.

If "Free For All" dealt with Capital-P-Politics in the Village, "Dance of the Dead" deals with the small-p politics - the ways in which the Villagers, each of different ranks, handle each other. It's an episode in which a great deal of information is imparted, and there's about a season's worth of Lost information provided in a nice, 50 minute block...and cleverly, as well.

It's time for Carnival, where there is "music, dancing, decree." Number 6 runs into another old friend (Roland Walter Dutton), as well as a dead body with a radio. We learn that Number 2 is in full belief that Number 6 is a "special" case...and that he will not easily be broken. (In fact, Dutton serves as a good counter to Number 6 - at the end of this episode, it's easy to see how Number 6's character compares to Dutton's).

There's also an excellent theme about games - the interpersonal games that are played (hence the "small p politics"). A very flirtatious maid makes her way into Number 6's life. When provided his own tuxedo, Number 6 provides an excellent semi-punch line to Number 2's comment that "He's an individual...and they're always trying." Towards the end, Number 6's "trial" is a game in and of itself, more allegorical than plot - three of the main characters in the episode, dressed as infamous tyrants, judge Number 6 of being guilty for the crime of having a radio in the Village, and he is officially declared "dead." (Meaning - he's not welcome, and he technically does not exist.

It's hard to do a straightforward review of this episode, since it works on multiple levels, but (in my opinion) the ultimate theme is announced by a lonely voice on the radio, as Number 6 finds himself on a far corner of the Village, attempting to gain radio signals to determine his location. The voice announces, "Only through pain can tomorrow be assured", which works on two levels - both on the level of the mandatory frivolity of Carnival, and amidst the various games that are played (ending with a move that informs Number 6 - and the audience - that nothing really is as it seems). It's ultimate message is that, to paraphrase a quote, some games are worth playing despite not being able to win...

There is, however, one aspect to this episode - and which will have to be explored when watching further episodes - that seems quite jarring. It happens towards the end, with a quote that seems to simultaneously defy and define the themes of individuality within The Prisoner.

Number 6: “Never trust a woman; even the four-legged variety.”

Granted, this may be part of Patrick McGoohan's slightly out-of-it sense of chivalry; on Danger Man, his character of John Drake had a tendency to use brains over fists. (Of course, McGoohan seems to think fist fights are better than love scenes, so go figure). A statement like this - given that Number 6 is in a situation where his individuality is threatened, the secrets in his head his highest commodity, the greatest need for him to "follow along" - is jarring; his slogan should be to never trust anybody.

However, two things seem to contradict this statement, if only to provide further grist for discussion: the first is Mary Morris' performance as Number 2. At Carnival, she is dressed as Peter Pan; considering that the role was written for Trevor Howard, and that his costume would either be Father Time or Jack the Ripper, Morris does an admirable job. Personally, she's my favorite Number 2, mixing a pragmatic friendliness with a slightly menacing chill. (Her costume also seems slightly ironic - in a world where Number 6 is expected to "grow up", she is dressed as a character who embraces eternal immaturity). She doesn't seem at all dangerous or untrustworthy...which only makes her more so.

And, of course, the symbolism in Carnival may have some play as well - Number 6, who is an individual and who rallies against the status quo, is given his own suit and told that he is "dead". Perhaps, in a way, McGoohan is encouraging all of us, no matter what our beliefs - from political and social reform to, for example, wishing wishing for a memorial to a deceased comic character - to do so despite other pressures. In fact, by his own ironic adoption of the Village's techniques, Number 6 asserts the need for greater speaking out.

Coming in the next few weeks: "We're all pawns, m'dear" taken to the extreme. Number Two quits hunting down the Be-Ottles. And, for the first time, a Village two-fer.

Be seeing you.

1 comment:

RAB said...

Nothing to add here but to say that I've been reading analyses of Prisoner episodes for thirty years now and have a stack of books about the show...and you still managed to come up with observations I've never seen before. Kudos, sir.

(And the link for the boxed set on Amazon lists Fenella Fielding as the star of the show? That's kind of weird...but again a new discovery, as I never realized that voice belonged to one of my favorites from the Carry On films...)